On March 13, 2020, ER technician Breonna Taylor was shot six times by Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD) officers Jonathan Mattingly, Brett Hankison, and Myles Cosgrove. Ever since then, a large group of Americans, including NFL players, have asked for justice.
On Wednesday, justice was decidedly not served. A Jefferson County, Kentucky grand indicted only Hankinson on three counts of first-degree wanton endangerment because he shot into a neighboring apartment where a pregnant woman, a man, and a child were home.
None of the officers were charged in Taylor’s killing, and Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron has said he expects no further criminal charges to be filed.
It’s an agonizing specter of truth for any person of color to have it made abundantly clear by indictment that some in America believe that property is more important than the lives of Black people, but it’s hard to look at this any other way. The city of Louisville settled with Taylor’s family on a $12 million wrongful death lawsuit, so for no charges to be filed against any of the officers in question seems especially specious.
There have been protests in Louisville ever since the indictment came down, and several NFL players have made their feelings known on the subject. It’s an especially charged story in the league as the police killing of George Floyd and the police shooting of Jacob Blake, both Black men, inspired a player-led charge of social justice statements the likes of which the NFL has never seen before.
“It’s really disgusting to think about [no charges in this case] because of how fragile human life is and the importance of your last breath,” Washington Football Team quarterback Dwayne Haskins said Wednesday. “I feel like in situations like this we can’t be too [desensitized] to it because you have to understand the importance of life. … [To] just think, ‘Oh, whatever happened happened,’ and to move on isn’t fair. If it was my sister or my mom or my dad or if I have kids one day, even my kids, I’ll be frank, I’ll be pissed off. Very pissed off.”
Haskins also encouraged people to look at this as something that is “bigger than just sports or politics or the color of your skin.”
Per the Washington Post, Ron Rivera, one of four NFL head coaches of color in the NFL today, said that he was also dismayed, but also expressed encouragement because of the “Justice for Breonna Taylor Act.” This is legislation that prohibits no-knock warrants, which have allowed law enforcement to enter a home without announcing authority or purpose.
“What that’s going to do is it’s going to prevent situations like this one from occurring,” Rivera said. “That’s the one thing that’s going to be, unfortunately, her legacy. She was taken way too soon. She was a bright, brilliant young lady. It’s very unfortunate and [a] very tragic situation. But again: I support the Black Lives Matter movement.”
“My initial thoughts is I can’t really say I’m surprised,” Wagner said. “I think there was a lot of hope that they were going to do the right thing. But at the end of the day, given how everything’s happened historically, I can’t say that I’m too surprised. It’s unfortunate. You know I feel, obviously a lot of anger, but we have to try to figure out different ways to get what we want.
“We can’t put it in anybody else’s hands to make the right decision because historically they’ve shown that they will not do that.”
Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is one of several NFL players who have chosen to wear Taylor’s name on his helmet as part of league-approved protests against police brutality.
“I have a daughter. I have a beautiful 3-year-old daughter,” Wilson recently said. “And when I think about everything that has happened in our country, it has been an emotional time. An emotional time where there is a lot of hate in the world, a lot of disappointing things that are happening.
“And when I think about Breonna, I think about somebody who seemed to be a gracious person from what we hear and what we read—but also somebody who was just trying to be at home… When I think about my daughter, I get fearful. Because a young girl like Breonna having her life taken away is pretty difficult.”
“When I got up this morning, I saw on social media her [Taylor] not getting no justice. But, you know, we got other things in the world that get justice that don’t really need justice but people want to push that issue a lot more than our Black lives mattering. Breonna Taylor being one of them. It’s crazy we don’t get justice for serious things on our side. We’re in America where it should be freedom of speech, the land of the free, but I don’t really feel like it’s been that way for us Black people sometimes.”
"It's crazy we never get justice for serious things on our side. We’re in America where it should be freedom of speech, the land of the free, but I don't really feel like it's been that way for us Black people sometimes." – @Lj_era8
— The Undefeated (@TheUndefeated) September 24, 2020
For those who would prefer that these and other athletes just “stick to sports,” it’s blatantly obvious we’re past that conceit. Sadly, the systemic issues that cause these words and feelings and protests have been innately American for hundreds of years, and they show no signs of receding at any time in the near future. And no matter their professions, these young men have every right to speak out about situations they could find themselves confronted with at any moment.